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Protecting your mobile devices from hackers

Android Phone

CROMWELL — Connecticut Better Business Bureau says consumers can expect cybercriminals to focus their efforts on hacking into smart phones and tablets.

“We keep a great deal of personal information on our smart devices,” says Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz. “Smart devices are computers, and like other computers, they are vulnerable to hacking.”

Concerns about the safety of our smart devices increased earlier this month when it was revealed that Apple computers were infiltrated by “ransomware” for the first time. The attack hit Apple computers, but not the company’s iPhones.

Ransomware shuts down access to a computer’s files unless the owner pays several hundred dollars to remove the block. Law enforcement recommends against paying the ransom because it is unlikely that digital hostage-takers will hold up their end of the deal.

There has long been a widespread perception that Apple products were immune to virus attacks. Hackers tended to concentrate on creating viruses for the Windows operating system – not Macs – because an overwhelming majority of consumers traditionally used the Windows platform.

The Android operating system has shown to be vulnerable to infection because owners may download rogue apps from third party sites, rather than the Google Play store. Apple cautions its smart device users to get software only from its app store.

While there is no evidence of large scale attacks against these devices, they are tempting targets for criminals because they are so popular, and because we are increasingly reliant on them for shopping and other financial transactions.

Hackers are extremely persistent, and the payoffs would be immense once they succeed in finding a way to bypass smart devices’ security measures.

Connecticut BBB recommends consumers take steps to protect their smart devices from intruders:

Review your online habits – The convenience of smart devices is what makes them risky. However, if you are on a public Wi-Fi network, avoid conducting any financial transactions or logging on to any accounts.

Steer clear of third party app download sites – Much of the trouble comes from infected apps. Manufacturers are very clear about this. A free download can end up being expensive if it contains malware and steals your contacts and other information. Go to the source for apps with Google Play for the Android system and the Apple App Store.

Watch out for unknown links – If you get a text or email from someone you don’t know – don’t go for the bait. If you click you could end up downloading a virus.

Find out the network name – One of the ways criminals can hack into a smart device is by creating what looks like a genuine Wi-Fi network with a name similar to that of a legitimate one. When you’re at an airport, coffee shop or any other place that provides free Wi-Fi, make sure you connect to a real network and not a hacker’s computer.

Install a “tracking” app. – If you lose your device, a tracker app will allow you to find the device, lock it remotely or wipe it clean. Some can even snap a photo of the person who found or stole the phone or tablet and email it to you.

Apply operating system updates – Whether it is your smart device, laptop or desktop computers, those updates are designed to close security holes in addition to adding functionality.

Finally, install a security suite for your smart device as you would for a PC. Even though hackers have been unable to launch substantial attacks on smart phones and tablets, the last decade has shown us that virtually any computer can eventually be hacked.